Educator Spotlight: Meet Yaritza Villalba

History teacher in New York persists with positivity, honesty and heart

This story is part of a weekly series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.


We’re all a little tired right now.  


In education and everywhere, we’re pushing ourselves perhaps more than we ever have before. Maybe we’re overwhelmed or anxious. Maybe it’s too lonely or too loud. Maybe we’re all longing for the same thing. Yet, just when we think we’ve reached our limit, we wake up and surprise ourselves once more.  


This is turning into a cyclical event – seeking answers and striving still – but it’s because we’re resilient. We’ll continue to be tomorrow, too.  


For Yaritza Villalba, a young and ebullient high school teacher in Brooklyn, New York, bravery is on her side. Just like the rest of us, she longs for honest answers and clarity as an unknown school year looms, but her seeking is not without strength.  


Yaritza is not only courageous for herself, she is a tireless lion for all of us. She fights beautifully for the answers we seek – boldly encouraging teachers to stand up and innovate with what they do know – and then, when another day passes wearily, she remembers just who she is fighting for, and it’s enough.  


“I would hate for a kid’s memory of me to be that teacher who gave up on them,” says Yaritza, who’s been teaching history for 10 years. “If I give up, I’m telling my students that it was impossible to learn. But we are educators, it is our job is to ensure that kids learn, regardless of what is going on around us. I think this is so much bigger than us, and, for me, I will always put the kids first.  


“Honestly, if I could choose my legacy, it would literally be that teacher who never gave up, you know?” 

Shout-outs and Patience

Right now, Yaritza is teaching summer school online to nearly 300 students across nine different classes. She won’t get a chance to meet all these kids in person – playing music to keep morale high, showing off new sneakers or dressing up in costume to complete an assignment – but she’s thinking of each of them and their families more than they know, and she finds new ways to engage anyway. 


“Kids are more likely to do work with someone they know, so I create opportunities for students to connect with me on Flipgrid, and then I get to see faces I’ve never seen before,” says Yaritza, who also created a help center for her students to reach out privately anytime. “And even if that’s my first and last video from that student, I still feel like I made that connection, so I’ll be sure in my next video to shout out that student to say, ‘I’ve seen you, and I can’t wait to see what you built.’ 

“I just always want to encourage the kids. In my videos, I will say, ‘I know this is difficult,’ but then I always follow that up with, ‘Reach out to me. I’m always going to be here to help. I care about you. I want you to succeed, and I want you to learn.’ But I also want them to push themselves, because this is the part of life that shows you there’s nothing easy.” 


She’s pushing her fellow teachers just the same. On difficult days, she advocates for building a roadmap that includes opportunities to “take a break, relax, learn and breathe.” She herself strives for endurance – “me and patience are like water and oil!” – and, in any classroom across the world, she asks for empathy with an anthem in her voice perhaps we all need to hear.

“I believe that we become educators because someone once shined the light on the profession for us,” Yaritza says. “Someone showed us that this is not only attainable, but that we can change lives. I know teachers are feeling defeated right now, but it’s important to remember that we were all students at one point, too. We were that eight-year-old who just wanted a teacher to acknowledge us in the classroom, share lunch with us or rub our backs when we were taking a nap in kindergarten. Our students still need that attention today, and they need it more than ever.  

“I’m doing this for the younger version of myself and every other kid out there who’s like me. I won’t be able to rub their back right now, but I am going to let them know every day that we are going to be ok. I can tell you that.” 


Follow Yaritza on Twitter.